By Sam Wheeler
for the Mail Tribune
A Grubbs family member and Ashland residents say searches of two properties and a vehicle this week have renewed their hope that police will track down the person who brutally murdered 23-year-old David Michael Grubbs a year ago Monday on the popular Central Ashland Bike Path.
“I haven’t been hopeful in a long time, and this latest effort makes me hopeful,” said Michael Grubbs, David’s father and a building official for the city of Ashland.
Police searched an 18-acre property in Talent and an apartment and vehicle in Ashland Wednesday but declined to name a suspect or say whether any evidence was found.
“The police made a huge step when they served those warrants,” said Michael Grubbs, adding police withhold most details of the investigation from family members to prevent jeopardizing the case.
David Grubbs was found murdered at about 5:35 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2011, by a passer-by. Police believe Grubbs had been dead less than 30 minutes.
An autopsy showed that he was nearly decapitated from a weapon with a medium to large blade, police said.
Investigators said Grubbs, who’d been walking home from his job as a grocery clerk at Shop’n Kart, did not appear to make any defensive moves in the attack, and that his wallet and money were left in his pocket.
Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said Wednesday investigators “have somebody in mind,” but stressed they did not believe any of the residents at 225 West Rapp Road, Talent, or 72 Wightman St., Ashland, where the searches were conducted, were responsible for the murder.
“I’m very hopeful they will find who did it,” said Bobbie West, 29, of Ashland. “It’s great they still have some leads to follow.”
Without a car, West mostly walks to get around town. She still carries a distinct sense of awareness because of the murder, she said.
“Whenever I walk past anyone wearing something like a trench coat, I always get nervous,” she said.
Ashland resident Susan Brook said David Grubbs’ murder crosses her mind whenever she steps outside to go on a walk.
“It’s not been quite the same since then,” she said. “I used to feel OK walking home from the theaters after dark ” not any more.”
Brook and West said other crimes in Ashland, including sexual assaults, contribute to their heightened sense of awareness, but that Grubbs’ murder stands out.
“Ashland is a really caring and trusting community, so it’s hard for us to think we have to be on guard all the time,” Brook said, “but maybe we do.”
George Schweiger, 31, who pedals past where Grubbs’ body was found near Hunter Park on his way to work a few times each week, said, “I think about it every single day.”
Schweiger said he feels safe biking and walking anywhere in Ashland, but hopes the crime can be solved for the Grubbs family’s sake.
“Closure would be nice,” said Ashland resident John Brandenburg, 23, who jogs on the bike path regularly and feels no threat.
“I always stop at his memorial ” just to try to show appreciation,” Brandenburg said.
Last week, a memorial bench, plaque and light were installed in Grubbs’ memory near where his body was found along the bike path, where it passes a Hunter Park parking lot. A concrete pad where the bench sits features a symbol of the Red Hot Chili Peppers alternative rock band, David Grubbs’ favorite band, according to family members and friends.
At least a dozen people who were close to Grubbs have gotten tattoos of the symbol in his honor.
Prior to the warrants served Wednesday, police meticulously considered hundreds of tips, interviewed nearly 2,000 people and analyzed hundreds of hours of surveillance footage collected from businesses around Ashland.
Holderness said police have served about six search warrants since the case began.
Leonard and Sally Parrish own the 18-acre property at 225 W. Rapp Road where about 50 police and search-and-rescue volunteers picked through a home, old barns and sheds, junk piles and an irrigation pond Wednesday.
Another half-dozen Ashland police and Southern Oregon University campus public safety officers searched an Ashland apartment occupied by Sally Parrish’s daughter, Rebecca Doran, 44. The apartment, part of an SOU family housing complex, is along the bike path just a few blocks from where Grubbs was murdered.
Doran owns a 2006 Jeep Wagon registered to her mother and stepfather’s 225 W. Rapp Road address, according to Driver and Motor Vehicle records. Phone and court records listed her as a resident at the Rapp Road address as recently as 2011.
Holderness was out of the office Friday. Ashland Police Deputy Chief Corey Falls would not comment about the details of the investigation Friday.
“We are continually investigating this case the best we can with the information we have,” he said.
Local investigators still are waiting on the return of a case analysis that an FBI Behavior Analysis Unit of investigative experts on violent crimes agreed to take on in July, Falls said.
He would not comment about whether police have been able to identify what weapon was used to murder Grubbs.
In December 2011, Ashland police contacted Steven Symes, a forensic anthropologist based in Erie, Pa., to examine Grubbs’ body. Symes hoped to determine from bone and flesh samples what weapon was used in the incident.
Wednesday’s searches came just five days before the one-year anniversary of Grubbs’ death. Fresh flowers adorn the makeshift memorial that appeared off the bike path shortly after Grubbs’ body was found.
“I’m just reliving everything all over again,” Michael Grubbs said. “I still appreciate the amount of support the community has given us, and the effort that everybody is putting into trying to find this guy.
“I certainly hope they find something.”
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.